As summer was peaking in 2019, the East Bay CNPS (EBCNPS) Conservation Committee contacted staff of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) about plans to expand Las Trampas Wilderness Regional Preserve, a park in the East Bay hills due west of Alamo and Danville and midway between Anthony Chabot Regional Park and Mt. Diablo State Park. The expansion will add 756 acres to the preserve’s southern boundary.
If you have not had a chance to enjoy the views or seek out the native flora of Las Trampas, it is well worth a trip—or several, given its size. The park offers panoramic views of the Bay Area and hosts rare and unusual plants, and of course the fauna that rely upon them, often in relatively pristine settings. Ridges of the Briones formation containing fossilized seashells and crustaceans are fascinating whether viewed from afar or up close. Ecological habitats in the preserve include grasslands, chaparral, woodlands, forests, and wetland areas.
Composed of five parcels that have been land banked for many years, the added land will bring the site to a total of 6,000 acres. The preserve is one of just a few wilderness areas in the EBRPD park system.
The Conservation Committee set to work responding to the Notice of Preparation, a public comment opportunity specified under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that allows organizations like EBCNPS to request that certain topics be addressed in EBRPD’s upcoming Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA) and Draft Environmental Impact Report. LUPAs are planning documents that describe where EBRPD would like to put trails, parking lots, and other visitor amenities. An Environmental Impact Report accompanies the LUPA to guide the public and EBRPD’s board of directors on how to locate parking lots, trails, and other development with the least negative impact on rare and desirable plants and animals, waterways, and other natural features.
Preliminary plans by EBRPD specify adding seven miles of new and existing trails to the 40 miles of trails already in the Las Trampas preserve, as well as adding five public access points, some with a small amount of parking.
In our comment letter we called on EBRPD to:
- Conduct comprehensive, well-timed surveys for special-status plants and sensitive plant communities. Too often, important tools such as our chapter’s database, Rare, Unusual and Significant Plants of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, are underutilized when determining what species are present that should be protected or restored. Several rare and endangered plants have been noted in the past, such as the bentflower fiddleneck (Amsinckia lunaris), Oakland mariposa lily (Calochortus umbellatus), and Mt. Diablo helianthella (Helianthella castanea).
- Perform thorough environmental studies of the soils, topography, and hydrology that support native plant communities in the area.
- Include the appropriate expertise of botanists and conservation ecologists in planned habitat restoration and enhancement that could be valuable additions to the preserve.
- Consider how some new narrow trail design proposals will impact plants, wildlife, and the safety and enjoyment of the public who will be using these trails. Normally, trails designated as multi-use (i.e., walkers, off-leash dogs and their owners, mountain bikes, and people on horses on the same trail) are designed to be eight to twelve feet wide to comfortably and safely accommodate each user. However, for five new proposed trails in the preserve, park planners are proposing to put all these user groups onto narrow trails.
- Limit the impacts of cattle grazing. While some of the parcels are currently pastures, there are six species of California oaks that grow at Las Trampas, including valley oak (Quercus lobata). The oaks in this added preserve land will be protected from development, but measures will also need to be taken to allow new oak seedlings to grow while still grazing cattle to manage the annual grasses.
- Ensure the designation of “wilderness preserve” includes protection of significant natural resources and provides opportunities for users to experience the special wilderness character of the preserve.
Our responses were submitted in August 2019, and the next step is for EBRPD to release the LUPA for Las Trampas, as well as the associated Environmental Impact Report, and to hold public hearings. The EBCNPS Conservation Committee will continue to be there to advocate for the care and enhancement of the preserve’s native flora in this welcome expansion of East Bay wilderness.